All Hail the Copycat!

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” – Oscar Wilde

There is a famous Seinfeld scene from the episode called “The Maid” where Kramer and Jerry are talking about Ray’s Pizza in New York. Basically, Kramer is lost downtown and trying to tell Jerry where he is, and he looks around and says that he’s in front of the “Original Ray’s Pizza”. Which is funny because if you have ever been to New York you know that there are around 50 different Ray’s Pizzas scattered throughout the city selling pizza by the slice. Yet they all claim to be the “Original” Ray’s Pizza.

Seinfeld Joke
Sourced from: https://www.quotes.net/mquote/847475

Here’s the clip:

Going back to the Wilde quote above, the guy who created the original “Original Ray’s Pizza” in 1959, Ralph Cuomo, should’ve been flattered as copycats abounded in the ’80s and ’90s. However, like most entrepreneurs, he was annoyed because he wanted credit for coming up with the take-out counter pizza concept. So he trademarked the brand and franchised the pizza. For more on that story, see this article from Business Insider magazine.

Places that serve Ray’s style pizza aren’t just limited to New York. When I lived in Seoul, there was a restaurant called Brick Oven New York Pizzeria that was pretty decent. Their motto was “eat the original, not the copies” since after they opened and experienced success a few other pizza places opened with similar names (ie. Gino’s NY Pizzeria). There is even a pizza place here in Delhi called New York Slice. It’s a copycat NY pizza parlor with red and white tablecloths and triangle slices you can fold in half. The pizza is meh and just doesn’t cut it. I mention all of this to say that the idea of selling slices of greasy pizza was so popular that it even made its way to international waters.

Pizza slice
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay.

Are there any original ideas anymore?

The other thing that’s kind of interesting about the Ray’s Pizza story is that the Seinfeld joke was later rehashed in the 2003 film Elf. There’s a part in the movie where Santa is giving advice to Buddy the Elf before he leaves the North Pole for NYC. Santa tells Buddy that he knows where the Original and best tasting Ray’s Pizza is located and that Buddy should always go there and avoid the imitations.

Santa talks to Buddy the Elf
https://www.quotes.net/mquote/28188.

Here’s that clip:

I was thinking about all this Ray’s Pizza stuff as I was going through the materials for this week’s COETAIL lesson “Respect the Remix.  I was also feeling sorry for myself because the nearest Ray’s Pizza is 7,291 miles away and I won’t be in the states for another few months and I love cheap pizza on the go. WAAAAAAH!!

What I was philosophizing about is the idea that people build off of each other’s ideas all the time. A good idea is a good idea. Most strokes of genius don’t spontaneously arise in vacuums. Thus the Elf joke that harkens back to the Seinfeld joke and the proliferation of Ray’s Pizza outlets and similar style pizza joints across the globe.  According to Kirby Ferguson, in his video “Everything is a Remix“, this is inevitable:

“Copying, transforming, and combining are the basic elements of creativity that are used by any creative artist.”  (Kirby Ferguson, as summarized in an article found on PetaPixel talking about how creativity comes from without and not from within).

While it is important to respect the intellectual property rights of others and give credit where credit is due (out of a moral obligation and the desire to not get sued for copyright infringement), there is also something to be said for running with a good concept, transforming it, popularizing it, and bringing it to the masses. It’s important for artists to allow their work to be riffed on or used by others, because you never know what might happen once an idea is let loose and given to others to play with. There is a fine line to be walked between copying and giving credit, and the skilled creator is able to navigate those waters successfully.

What does all this talk about remixing and copying mean for me as an educator?

In terms of talking to my students about these concepts, I like the idea of having them come up with their own examples of remixes and copycats, and then thinking through each situation in terms of the pros, cons, and ramifications. I’m visualizing classroom discussions and debates around recent news stories that will really bring these ideas alive and put them into meaningful contexts.

Usually, when we talk about intellectual property in class, we discuss the importance of not copying/pasting chunks of texts into writing, and the need to paraphrase or directly quote information instead. We also spend time talking about the importance of citing sources and images correctly using Noodle Tools when doing research projects.

But we don’t actually talk about real-world examples or the why behind the rules. I’m realizing now that there are myriad rich discussions to be had about  issues related to intellectual property that can be looked at through many different lenses and viewpoints.

My mind is always jumping ahead, and so I’m already thinking about different ways we can discuss these concepts. I mean, I’m writing this blog post right now listening to Taylor Swift’s Fearless album, which is a brilliant re-recording of her own album that she released in 2008 (see this article in The Ringer for more on that).  Other ideas I have include talking about fan fiction, nonfungible tokens, movie and book sequels, the Marvel Comic universe, cronuts, etc. (the list is endless and it would be awesome to have the students generate their own).

I could also use my own COETAIL blog when talking to students about the importance of avoiding plagiarism when building upon the ideas of others.  I might show the students how I have tried to cite sources in my posts appropriately, use hyperlinks, and give credit correctly when using stock photo images from Pixabay and Pexels. Using my own work as a model could be a powerful mentor text for the students, and help them to understand the concepts in a more concrete way.

To sum up, this topic of inquiry was an interesting thought train for me. My  apologies for rambling all over the place. The exploration I went on into the world of the remix via the Ray’s pizza case study kind of reminded me of Pandora’s box. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop because the latch had been opened.

opened box
Image by Momentmal from Pixabay.

For more on the subject of remixing, check out this article from TEDBlog called “14 Brilliant Quotes on Remixing”. I loved this quote especially:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination …  Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it.” – Jim Jarmusch 

What do you think? Is nothing original? Should we all hail the copycat? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

8 Replies to “All Hail the Copycat!”

  1. Hi Megan, I love burgers.

    It is very interesting to read how you think about copycats. I see it a bit more critically myself. On the one hand, it is a logical consequence of society to copy things. I think that has always been the case and that we will not change anything despite the clearer laws.
    Despite Covid, the world does not stand still. That means that we should keep developing.

    I was / am a big fan of Seinfeld and always enjoyed it. You have managed to depict the current issue of copies / copyrights very graphically and deliciously, that’s great.
    You’re right, pizza is not just pizza. I have never tried “Ray’s Pizza” before.

    I also agree with you when you say “a good idea is a good idea”. Nevertheless, we must respect those who first had this idea. Some ideas come about overnight, others take a lot of time and also cost.
    Therefore, I think it is important and right that there are laws that protect what others have produced.
    The “person” is free to choose how to deal with it.
    I shared a LINK (https://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/service/plagiarius-preis-die-dreistesten-plagiate-des-jahres-a-d41de776-6a08-4b20-b027-a14c9b751180) on my blog. This involves stealing / copying someone else’s property.

    It’s great to read how you approach this topic with your children. Unfortunately, I think that my children (kindergarten) are still too young for that.

    Your “MovieMaker” link shows me ERROR 404. I would like to make the following comment on this quote. I don’t quite agree.
    1. There is always an original.
    2. Stealing is wrong.
    3. Yes to: “Authenticity is priceless”. And yes to: “And don’t bother to hide your theft”.

    Then I would like to say: imitation has earned a place in this world. You can take the next step to a new idea or an improvement on what they are imitate / copying. One possible example: Tesla!

    Thank you for your graphic representation. I’ll think about it for my next pizza.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Michael! I removed the broken Movie Maker link and just kept the link to the article with the Jarmusch quote. Do you like his movies? I don’t think I have seen any of them, but from a quick Wiki search, he seems like a pretty interesting and cool guy.

      You are right in saying that we should respect authors and ideators, giving credit when credit is due. I think that’s why creative commons’ licenses are so important and relevant today. They provide attribution to the creator, but also allow others to use and remix their work!

      Take care and enjoy your next slice of pizza:)
      Megan

  2. Hi Megan,

    Great metaphor with Ray’s pizza examples. We all need pizza! I reflected on your writing in the following ways:
    Humans are creatures of habits. If someone was to change the name from Ray’s pizza to Rino’s pizza, or some cool and original name, perhaps no one would buy it… or not until it built on its popularity.

    I feel the same about Mexican restaurants outside of Mexico. They say authentic, but unless you are from the country or have experienced authentic Mexican family and street meals, it’s just Tex-Mex. Tomatoes and veggies taste different in Mexico – Ha!

    I too agree that it is important to respect the intellectual property of others, but also worry that we are too focused on the punishments that we don’t give room for honoring and recreating great work that sparks inspiration and new ideas. After this assignment, I feel much appreciation for people who work under CC0 license.

    We are all copycats! We see this in small children as they try to imitate us, right?

    And finally, I think nothing is original. Everything is a mix. One idea helped get to another idea.

    1. Hi Abigail,

      Thanks for your comment! Great point about the use of the word “authenticity” when describing restaurants. I had actually been thinking about the topic of cultural appropriation when I was trying to decide what to write about for my post, but I went in a different direction (obviously).

      But why the need for so many places to call themselves “authentic”? Do we attach significance to words like “authentic” and “original” in our culture because there are so many copycats? It’s interesting to think about how our language is often aspirational, and reflects our values and beliefs. In this case, the value being that if something is to be good, it needs to be “true” and cannot be an imitation (even if it is).

      Hope you are somewhere where you can get a good Tex-Mex meal. I’m also dreaming of tacos. I had some excellent fish ones in Houston a few years ago. Not many to be found in Delhi though…

      Take care,
      Megan

  3. Megan,
    I really enjoy your post this week and how you provided examples of copy cat culture. I will follow you into Pandora’s box anytime. I am not sure if you had a chance to watch Nina Paley’s video, Copyright is Brain Damage but she made an important connection to your quote by Furguson, and how vital it is for artists to allow their work to be used by others. Paley talks about how copyright prevents information transmission and how the information goes in but cannot come out due to our own internal censorship. This prevents artistic work from flowing in and out and creating a permission culture which she equates to brain damage. She speaks to how copyright does not protect the artists but prevents their work from being shared.

    I love your idea of how you can bring this work into your classroom. I am currently supporting learners in their grade five Exhibition and we have been talking about making sure we properly site our work as to not become a copy cat. One idea I wanted to share with you as a spin-off to your recent news discussion is the prevalence of “fake news”. Could you ask learners to find sources that seem to share accurate information but are really sharing fake information? Here is a website that tries to convince readers on how they can Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Just a thought 🙂
    Cheers,
    Kimberly

  4. So sorry, Megan. It doesn’t look like the formatting I used or the hyperlinks I tried to embed worked. Here is the link I was trying to share with you. Looks like I still have a long way to go with my tech skills, or WordPress just hates me.
    https://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/

    Kimberly

  5. Hi Kimberly,

    Thanks for sharing the site about the tree octopus. LOL! It does almost kinda seem like it could be a real thing. I wonder how many students are fooled when you show them that site? Have you used it with your learners? What happened?

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I didn’t get a chance to watch the “Copyright is Brain Damage” video yet. I’ll do that now.

    So excited to be collaborating on the Course 2 final project with you! Yay!

    Megan

    1. Hi Megan,

      I used this with a group of grade five learners when to talk about how we can spot fake news in preparation for their Exhibition research. Let’s just say they weren’t impressed with the layout of the site and it felt very “old school”. It turned out to be a great provocation for our lesson. I would love to hear if you decide to do the same and what take middle schoolers would have on the site.

      I am really excited to be working with you on our collaborative project. Looking forward to learning more from you, Megan.

      Cheers,
      Kimberly

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